Emancipation Day

Emancipation Day Parade in Amherstburg, Ontario in the 1890’s. Courtesy article Windsor Star.

Emancipation Day Parade near Windsor, Ontario in the 1890’s. Ypsilantians regularly traveled to Canada for the day. Courtesy Windsor Star.

In the social and political life of African American Ypsilanti, no day was more important than the first of August, Emancipation Day. Residents of South Adams Street were both participants and organizers of the annual events. The community’s deep ties to Canada are highlighted by the date of the celebration. It was not the United States’ 1863 Emancipation Proclamation that was commemorated, but the day in 1834 when slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Responsibility for hosting the day was rotated through the African American communities of Southeast Michigan, Ontario and Northwest Ohio.

A few of those years Ypsilanti was host to the regional celebrations with hundreds coming by rail from Toledo, Jackson, Detroit, Albion, Ann Arbor and Canada for the festivities. It was at the corner of Michigan and South Adams that Ypsilanti’s African American community and guests would gather around  to celebrate Emancipation Day with a march up Congress Street to what is now Recreation Park for speeches, games, ice cream and reunions.Emancp1



Photos Courtesy of the Albion Historical Society.

Taken August 1st, 1927 in front of the Booker T. Washington Community House on N. Albion in Albion, Michigan, the remarkable photos above may contain Ypsilanti faces  present on that day. An article on these photos and the identification of many of the people in them is available here.

For more on the history of August 1st and its legacy find Rites of August First: Emancipation Day in the Black Atlantic World by J. R. Kerr-Ritchie.

Below are a collection of newspaper articles detailing Ypsilanti area observations of Emancipation Day, held around August 1st in the decades following the Civil War. The language of some these stories, taken directly from area newspapers, are occasionally derisive and racist.

June 20, 1866

Ypsilanti Commerical. June 20, 1866.

June 20, 1866. Ypsilanti Commerical.

August 4, 1866

Commerical. August 4, 1866.

August 4, 1866. Commerical.

August 11, 1866

Commercial, August 11, 1866,

August 11, 1866. Commercial.

August 11, 1866

Part 2.

Part 2. Commercial.

August 1 1866

Wednesday “Emancipation Day Celebration. Delegations from neighboring towns met in the morning at the A.M.E. Church. Marched to Crosse’s Grove where all enjoyed ‘feast of reason and flow of…” lemonade, etc.

Ypsilanti Commercial

In 1869 the white editor of the Ypsilanti Commercial, then a Radical Republican, travelled with Ypsilanti blacks to Canada for the year’s commemoration and wrote about his experiences.

August , 8 1869

Commercial. August 8, 1869.

Commercial. August 8, 1869.

July 16, 1870

Ypsilanti Commercial

July 16, 1870. Ypsilanti Commercial

July 12, 1873


July 12, 1873. Ypsilanti Commercial.

July 13 1873

Canada continued to host the region’s celebrations as in 1873.

Essex Record

July 13, 1873. Essex Record

August 9, 1873


August 9, 1873. Commercial.

July 23, 1876

Ypsilanti Commercial

July 23, 1876. Ypsilanti Commercial

July 29, 1876

Commercial. July 29, 1876.

Commercial. July 29, 1876.

Commercial. July 29, 1876.

Commercial. July 29, 1876.

August 5, 1876

Emancipation Day in Ypsilanti, 1876. Commercial. August 5, 1876.

Emancipation Day in Ypsilanti, 1876. Commercial. August 5, 1876.

Report on the day. Commercial. August 5, 1876.

Report on the day. Commercial. August 5, 1876.


August 5, 1876 Commercial. Part two.


August 5, 1876. Commercial

July 27, 1877


July 27, 1877. Detroit Free Press.

Agust 5, 1877

Ypsilanti Commercial

August 5, 1877. Ypsilanti Commercial

August 1, 1878


Ypsilanti Commercial

July 24, 1880


July 24, 1880. Ypsilanti Commercial.

August 7, 1880

Ypsilanti Commercial

August 7, 1880. Ypsilanti Commercial

June 18, 1881


June 18, 1881. Commercial.

July 9, 1881

Ypsilanti Commercial

July 9, 1881. Ypsilanti Commercial

August 5, 1881

Emancipation Day, 1881. Courier. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor Public library.

Emancipation Day, 1881. Courier. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor Public Library.

July 21, 1883


July 21, 1883. Commercial.

August 4, 1883

Ypsilanti Commercial

August 4, 1883. Ypsilanti Commercial

May 28 1884

The 50th anniversary of emancipation of slaves in the West Indies will be observed in the city, August 1, 1884. The reunion of the surviving members of the 102nd colored regiment, U. S. A., will also be held on the same date. A largely attended meeting of colored citizens was held last week in preparation for the reunion; V. A. Sweeney was chairman and W. T. Johnson, secretary. The exercises will be held in Relief Park. It is expected that Col. Henry L. Chipman, the regiments old commander, and Major Martin R. Delaney, of South Carolina, will make addresses. Hon. J. G. O’Hara, …..may also be in attendance. The committee is in correspondence with him. Officers and committees as follows were chosen at last week’s meeting. Another meeting will be held this evening for making further arrangements: President of the day- Wm Graves Vice-Presidents-R. A. De Hazen, of Ypsilanti John Davis of Lansing; R. Massenburg of Toledo GF Johnson and Oliver Hall of Jackson and Stephen Jacobs….-Assistant Marshall John Bowles of Ypsilanti

Ann Arbor Courier

July 11, 1884


July 11, 1884. Ypsilanti Commercial.

August 4, 1884

Emancipation Day, 1884. Courier, Courtesy of the Ann Arbor Public Library.

Emancipation Day, 1884. Courier, Courtesy of the Ann Arbor Public Library.

August 6 1884

Emancipation Day. Last Friday proved a fine day form a weather point of view after the heavy rainfall of several days preceding, and the attendance in this city of the colored people from different parts of the county and from neighboring cities in celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of emancipation in the British West Indies, was quite large.

A special train from the south brought 450 colored citizens from Toledo, and among the number was the Excelsior Blaine and Logan club, attired in plumed helmets, white coats, etc. The Toledo colored cornet band was also in attendance.

The colored volunteers of the 102d regiment, to the number of seventy-four, gathered on this day for their first reunion. Their enjoyment of the occasion was very evident to any one who may have seen them in conversation, recalling the many thrilling incidents of the past.

A procession was formed at the court house in the forenoon, headed by the Toledo cornet and the Ann Arbor city bands, and proceeded down Main to Relief Paik, where dinner was served at noon to the large number of visitors. Between four and five thousand people assembled at the Park in the afternoon, to listen to the literary program of the day, which began at 2 o’clock.

On the platform were the President of the day, Wm. Graves, Rev. John K. Hart, Rev. Samuel Haskell, Jerome A. Freeman, Hon. Rufus Waples, Dr. T. P. Wilson, and others. The exercises opened with prayer by Rev. John K. Hart, pastor of the African M. E. church, of this city. Mayor W. D. Harriman delivered an address of welcome on behalf of the city, and Capt. E. P. Allen, of Ypsilanti, responded in a short and characteristic speech. Following a poem by J. H. Starks, of this city, the speaker of the day was introduced, Hon. James E. O’Hara, colored congressman from the second district of North Carolina, who spoke at some length. Mr. O’Hara delivery is pleasing, and he made himself easily heard by the majority of the large audience before him. His address embraced a review of the history of the African race from the time of their introduction into the West Indies through slavery times down to the present. Mr. O’Hara was followed with a brief and well received address by Hon. A. J. Sawyer, of Ann Arbor-, which closed the exercises of the afternoon. A dance in the evening completed the day’s pleasures. The colored people are to be congratulated on the success of their celebration in this city.

Ann Arbor Courier

August 5, 1884

Ypsilanti Commercial

August 5, 1884. Ypsilanti Commercial

August 9, 1884


August 9, 1884. Commercial.


August 9, 1884. Ypsilanti Commercial.

August 1, 1885


August 1, 1885. Commercial.


Chatham Emancipation Day Parade, 1885. Courtesy Chatham Kent Museum.

Chatham Emancipation Day Parade, 1885. Courtesy Chatham Kent Museum.

July 2 1886

Ypsilanti Commercial.

July 2, 1886. Ypsilanti Commercial.

July 23, 1886


July 23, 1886. Commercial.

July 28 1886

EMANCIPATION CELEBRATION. The Ypsilantian of last week has the following notice of the coming Emancipation Celebration to be held in that city, August 21:- The first of August which may be said to come on the second this year, will be celebrated by our colored population and their guests from abroad a week from next Monday. The committee of arrangements are hard at work looking after odds and ends, and expect to make the occasion one to be remembered. At 10 o’clock the procession will form at the corner of Adams and Congress streets, and march to the depot to welcome the visitors who are coming in large numbers from Toledo, Ann Arbor, Detroit, Windsor and Chatham. The line of march is thence to the Fair Grounds. In the procession will be the speakers of the day in carriage, preceded by a band of music. There will be a goddess of liberty and thirty-six dusky belles representing the states of the Union, and the Good Samaritans and Michigan Mutual Benefit Society in regalia, on horseback and on foot. The procession is in charge of the marshals of the day, headed by Acksum Johnson of this city. At the fair ground, alter prayer by Rev. Alexander, reading of the emancipation proclamation by A. C. Foster, and music by a glee club of young colored gentlemen, the company will sit down to dinner. At 2 o’clock Mayor Cornwell is expected to deliver an address of welcome, to be followed by addressed by Hon H. P. Jacobs, a Colored representative from Natchez, Miss.,Hon. E. P. Allen of our own city, and Daniel Mills, a colored gentleman from Detroit. Hon. C. R. Whitman is also expected to make a speech. Athletic prize sports will occupy the remainder of the afternoon. In the evening there is to be a reception and ball at the Arcade rink, and for those who do not wish to tread the mazes of the dance, a festival in Light Guard Hall. The arrangements are in the hands of R. H Morton, J.R. Johnson, J. C. Ambrose, A. C. Foster, and R.A. DeHazen. It is expected that thiree thousand col’i people will participate.

Ann Arbor Courier

July 30, 1886

Ypsilanti Commerical

July 30, 1886. Ypsilanti Commerical

August 2 1886

The Michigan Mutual Benevolent Society and the Good Samaritans joined with the committee in charge to plan a gala day.

That morning visitors from neighboring towns arrived on every train, although not in any great numbers. Most of the visitors came from Ann Arbor and Jackson, with a few coming from Toledo. The procession formed at 10:00 am at the corner of Adams and Congress, now Michigan Avenue. The procession marched down Michigan Avenue and then up River Street to the railroad depot at Cross and River, meeting trains from both ways. The procession then formed on Cross Street and marched to Huron Street, then to Michigan Avenue, and then to the Fair Grounds, now Recreation Park, where the celebration was held.

“The notable feature of the procession was the wagon of girls, each dressed in white, wearing the red, white and blue. The Goddess of Liberty sat at the pinnacle of the pyramid shaped wagon. Each wore the name of some state. The procession was headed by the Dexter Juvenile Band, who furnished the music for the occasion. The boys gave good satisfaction,” noted the Ypsilanti Commercial of Friday, August 6, 1886.

On arrival at the Fair Grounds dinner was served. The program was opened with music and then a prayer was offered. Ypsilanti Mayor Cornwell delivered an address of welcome, which was followed with an address by Congressman Allen. “His remarks were very appropriate for the occasion, giving a review of the manner in which the great sin of slavery was introduced and rooted out. He said that colored people are now a part and parcel of this great Republic, and as such should be protected in their rights,” reported the Commercial.

An H. P. Jacobs of Natchez, Mississippi, who was a former slave, and had lived in Ypsilanti for some years, gave an address of some length. “He spoke of the brave record of the colored people, showing that they were as brave as any race of men ‘that walked on two legs.’ We hear a good deal about “how to solve the …problem.” I will tell you how: “let him alone.” You will see him filling the highest positions in the U.S. Let him work that out himself.”

The celebration ended with a ball game and foot races. The ball game between Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti teams ended in quite a wrangle. “Dissatisfaction with the umpire’s decision caused it. The game was stopped,” noted the account. Foot races were run, including the fifty yard race, and the 100 yard race. “The other races failed to come off, there being no entries.”


August 6, 1886


August 6, 1886. Commercial. Part two.

August 8, 1886


Augusy 8, 1886. Ypsilanti Commercial. Part one.

July 15, 1887

Ypsilanti Commerical.

July 15, 1887. Ypsilanti Commerical.

July 29, 1887


July 29, 1887. Commercial.

August 5, 1887

Ypsilanti Commerical.

August 5, 1887. Ypsilanti Commerical.

August 3 1888

About 300 of our colored citizens helped celebrate Emancipation Day at Jackson.


July 12, 1889

Ypsilanti Commercial

July 12, 1889. Ypsilanti Commercial

July 19, 1889

Ypsilanti Commercial

July 19, 1889. Ypsilanti Commercial

August 4, 1889

August 4, 1889. Commercial.

August 4, 1889. Commercial.

August 1, 1890

Ypsilanti Commercial

August 1, 1890. Ypsilanti Commercial

August, 1891

Emancipation Day 1891. Argus. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor Public Library.

Emancipation Day 1891. Argus. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor Public Library.

Argus. 1891. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor public Library.

Continued. Argus. 1891. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor public Library.

August 7 1891

Seven years ago Emancipation Day was celebrated in this city. The revolving cycle of time brought the celebration again to Ann Arbor this year. It was a greater celebration this year than before. The Afro-American was out in force. Excursions carne from Toledo, Jackson, Battle Creek, and other points. The Ypsilanti motor line was loaded with Ypsilanti excursionists. Prof. Jones’ band, of Ypsilanti, furnished the music for the day. The procession was a long one, headed by the band and by forty-four young girls representing the different states, in a band wagon, followed by carriages, etc. Stands were erected at the park, ice-cream and other refreshments served, and a happier crowd was never gathered anywhere. The hall used for dancing at the park was well patronized, and the tripping of the light fantastic was done in all the approved steps. At the rink, in the evening, another dancing crowd was gathered, and held the floor until the wee small hours. At the park, in the morning, John Loney acted as president, and introduced Mayor Doty, who spoke as Hon. E. P. Allen , Rev. Fr. Goldrick Joseph Beard, of Adrián. Paul G. Suekey, of the Hausfreund, concluded the speech-making. He came to this country with the idea that the colored man was regarded as the equal of the white man. He found this true in theory, but not in practice.

Ann Arbor Argus


June 30, 1893. Ypsilanti Commercial.

July 14 1893

Emancipation day will be the great colored 4th of July, at Ypsilanti, Aug. 1st.

Ann Arbor Argus

July 28, 1893


July 28, 1893. Ypsilanti Commerical.

August 3, 1893

Ypsilantian. August 3, 1893.

Ypsilantian. August 3, 1893.

August, 1894


August 3, 1894


August 3, 1894. Ypsilanti Commercial.

August 7 1894

Some colored people of Ypsilanti, who attended the Emancipation day celebration at Windsor, and made a half hair mistake on the returning of the train, and either paid another fare or walked in, are indignant and think the road ought to be abolished.

Ann Arbor Argus

July 25, 1895


July 25, 1895. Ypsilantian.

August 1, 1895


August 1, 1895. Ypsilantian.

July 23, 1896


July 23, 1896. Ypsilantian.

August 7, 1896

Emancipation Day 1896. Argus. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor Public Library.

1896. Argus. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor Public Library.

1896. Argus. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor Public Library.

August 7 1896

Emancipation Day was celebrated in Ann Arbor last Friday by Negroes from Jackson, Ypsilanti, Detroit, Toledo and other points as well as those resident in the city. All morning long the people kept dropping into the city and by the time the procession was ready to start for Relief Park at 11 o’clock the city was busily alive with the numbers who were on the streets. The proces3iou was made up of the celebrated Newsboys’ Band, of Detroit, members of Lucullus Lodge, No. 5, K. of P., in regalia, and the speakers and principal guests of the day in carriages.

The crowd at the park in the afternoon numbered about 800 people and addresses were delivered by Rev. D. A. Graham, of Chicago; Rev. C. S. Smith, D. D., of Nashville, Tenn.; F. A. Merchant, of Ypsilanti, and M. W. Guy, of this city. Choice selections of music were rendered by the Newsboys’ Band. The lunch and refreshment stands were well patronized. In spite of the earnest endeavors of the committee to prevent the sale of intoxicating liquors on or near the grounds Jacob J. Dupper had erected a beer stand just outside the Relief Park and was busily engaged in dispensing the liquid refreshments when he was discovered by the committee and Rev. Win. Collins. The latter at once got word to Marshal Peterson who promptly put a stop to this illicit sale of intoxicants. On the whole the afternoon was very pleasantly spent by all. Not a few engaged carriages and drove around the city. The day was a model one for a celebration and full advantage was taken of it.

The social party and cake walk given by the Social Club of Lucullus Lodge, No 5, K. of P., was a fitting close to the day’s enjoyment. It was largely attended not only by dancers but by spectators who had gathered to witness the cake walk. To the indefatigable labors of VY. H. Fields, the chairman of the committee of arrangements, is due the great measure of success that the party attained. Twelve couples ranged themselves in line for the cake walk under the captaincy of Mr. Jones, of Toledo. The judges were Will Hatch, Frank Ryan and Ed. Lohr and their decisions were eminently satisfactory. The prizes were awarded as follows: First prize, Mr. and Mrs. Win. O. Thomas, of Ann Arbor; second prize, Harry Smith, of Toledo, and Miss Etta Richardson, of Ypsilanti; third prize, Mr. and Mrs. Judson Mulder, of Alma; prize to best dressed lady, Mrs. W. O. Thomas, of Ann Arbor; best dressed gentleman, David Robinson, of Ann Arbor; best round dancers, first prize, Miss Kittie Henderson, of Ann Arbor; second prize, Miss Rebecca Turner, of Ann Arbor. In the cake walk the best walker amongst the ladies was Miss Kittie Henderson, but her partner could Lot or did not know how to keep step with her and she was consequently barred. After the prizes had been awarded the dancing was resumed and kept up until an early hour in the morning. All in all it was a pleasing celebration of the emancipation of the colored race from the bonds of slavery. A fine stack fruit cake was drawn for during the evening and the holder of the lucky number that won the prize was Mrs. Carrie Fields.

Ann Arbor Argus

1897 Emancipation Day report, Ann Arbor Argus

1897 Emancipation Day report, Ann Arbor Argus

July 22, 1897


July 22, 1897. Ypsilantian

August 5, 1897


August 5, 1897. Ypsilantian.

August 6, 1898

Ann Arbor’s colored citizens will go to Ypsilanti Monday, August 2, in special cars over the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti line to help celebrate Emancipation Day. A large excursion of Toledo colored people will also be in Ypsilanti on that day.

Ann Arbor Argus


1898 Emancipation Day. Argus. Courtesy of the Ann Arbor Public Library.

August 4 1899

EMANCIPATION DAY- Three carloads of colored people from Ypsilanti reached Detroit a little after 8.0’clock this morning on their way to Windsor to celebrate emancipation day and a number of cars which followed were loaded.

Ann Arbor Argus-Democrat

March 1, 1900


March 1, 1900. Commercial.

April 11, 1900


April 11, 1900. Commercial.

June 11, 1900


June 11, 1900. Commercial.

July 1, 1900


July 1, 1900. Commercial.


July 1, 1900. Ypsilanti Commercial.

July 12, 1900


July 12, 1900. Ypsilantian.

July 19, 1900


Ypsilanti Commerical.


July 19, 1900. Ypsilanti Commercia

August 2, 1900


August 2, 1900. Ypsilantian.


August 2, 1900. Ypsilanti Commercial.

August 4, 1903


August 4, 1903. Commercial.

August 2, 1912


August 2, 1912. Daily Press.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s